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Proprietary estoppel cases in farming communities on the rise

12 February 2016

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Proprietary estoppel cases in farming communities on the rise

Enforcing a promise can be an 'uphill legal struggle', according to solicitor

A spate of proprietary estoppel claims in the farming community has shown that cases involving an unkept promise and a property are on the rise.

According to Noel McNicholas, an associate at Nelsons Solicitors, 'it is easy to make and break a promise, but it can be an uphill legal struggle to hold it to its maker, either during their lifetime or often after their death.'

McNicholas highlighted typical scenarios involve farms, businesses or other property as the usual subject of the dispute.

In 2015, two cases caught the media's attention involving farm disputes: Davies v Davies (2015) and Rawlings v Chapman (2015).

In Davies, the daughter of a couple who owned a prize winning dairy farm was awarded £1.3m in damages by the High Court after her parents reneged on a promise to make her a partner in the business.

The daughter had worked on the land for the best part of 30 years and the pay and accommodation she received was not the average rate for the work she did.

The High Court recognised that the daughter had relied upon her parents' assurances to her detriment. The case is currently subject to an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

In Rawlings, the claimant contributed towards the cost of building and fitting out a new house on farmland owned by her deceased partner, in the belief of a promise that she would one day inherit the house.

The claimant was unsuccessful because the court concluded no promise had been made by the deceased as the financial contributions were made in the hope of living together with the partner, who failed to show the commitment she wanted.

McNicholas said that while these cases reinforced the notion that disputes related mainly to the farming community, disputes can often concern a typical family home.

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Wills, Trusts & Probate